A subsidiary of the Buffalo Bisons is considering teaming up with Buffalo Place to bid on the job to manage programming at Canalside, potentially reclaiming that work from a Philadelphia-based company that's been running events for the past few years.
The Bisons' Be Our Guest division is "seriously looking" at applying for a new contract from the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. to take over the services and operations at the waterfront in downtown Buffalo, said Bisons President Jonathan Dandes.
Management of Canalside is now in the hands of Spectra by Comcast Spectacor, formerly Global Spectrum, a division of Philadelphia-based Comcast Corp., which won a three-year contract in January 2014 for the work that was previously handled by Buffalo Place. ECHDC is putting the current contract out for bid, with submissions due by Nov. 3.
The Bisons unit, which is part of Buffalo-based Rich Products Corp., last year secured a separate contract from ECHDC to manage activities at the Outer Harbor, and has asked the nonprofit downtown business improvement district to join it with the new bid for the Inner Harbor as well. Be Our Guest also helps run restaurants and corporate food-service operations, both locally and elsewhere.
Under the proposed partnership, Be Our Guest would handle the major programming and related functions, while Buffalo Place would focus on the maintenance and operational side, which is similar to what it already does along Main Street and adjacent streets from the waterfront north to Goodell Street.
"We are seriously looking at the bid. We're working on the numbers now to see if they work," Dandes said, adding that other potential partners are also being considered. "We are taking a very, very deep look at it."
No definite decision has been made to submit an offer, but "we believe we certainly can be helpful," Dandes said.
"We've seen what the Outer Harbor means to the community and that's basically what's driving our interest," he said. "We were delightfully surprised at what we saw this summer. We had what we felt was a very strong year, and we were invited to take a look at whether Canalside would be a fit. We're doing our due diligence very seriously."
And he noted the added benefit of bringing management back under local control. "Bringing it back local would be good," Dandes said. "We're absolutely committed to Canalside conceptually."
Steve Carmina, an architect and member of the Buffalo Place board of directors, said the organization's leadership met with Dandes and other Rich Products entertainment executives to discuss the roles each would play. "They have a very clear role for us and it's things we do very well," he told the board Wednesday morning.
In particular, under the proposal, the group's Rangers security and escort team would expand its downtown presence to Canalside to handle daily, non-event security, while Rich would cover security at night and for concerts or other events. "Our folks would not be there except on the fringes," Carmina said, adding that a special logo might be added to their uniforms to identify them.
Buffalo Place would also handle trash pickup, landscaping, and care of the lawn and flowers on the site, as well as "any of the other stuff that we do on Main Street, keeping the place clean," he added.
"It was very encouraging," Carmina said. "They have a clear path to what they want to do, both as a caretaker of Canalside and the types of events they want to have, the bands they want to attract to Canalside. We walked away from it feeling pretty good."
Buffalo Place already oversees the same maintenance, operations and security tasks in its existing district, along with the job of marketing downtown, programming some activities and events like Rotary Rink at Fountain Plaza, and working to support local businesses and property owners. In exchange, the businesses and landlords located within the district pay an annual fee based on their size.
The organization also has a long history with managing the Canalside concert series, which the nonprofit group originally started in 1986 at Lafayette Square before moving them to the waterfront in 2011 and then losing them to Global Spectrum in 2014. But while the series has been considered wildly successful in attracting people downtown, the group struggled financially with the burden of the additional Canalside work when it last had control of it, because the concert revenues and expenses weren't predictable enough.
Buffalo Place Chairman Keith Belanger said this time the organization would not be exposed to financial risk, but would be paid a fee to cover its overhead costs and provide a "nominal profit to make it worth our while."
"This would be us providing services to another organization," Belanger said. "We would just be part of a response that the Bisons would be putting together."